March 2008
Volume 4, Issue 3

University of Southern California School of Dentistry

Los Angeles, California

Interviewee:
Harold C. Slavkin, Dean, G. Donald and Marian James Montgomery Professor of Dentistry

Question 1

Inside Dentistry (ID): Exciting and innovative new research initiatives are taking place at dental schools nationwide. What is the most significant area of research at your school?

Harold Slavkin (HS): The University of Southern California is a research-intensive university that fosters multidisciplinary research of significance to the larger society. Faculty with primary appointments to the School of Dentistry engage in multiple research programs that we are very proud of and celebrate. Exemplars include mesenchymal stem cells to design and fabricate human tooth roots; the recent “FaceBase Project” sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which was designed to understand the genetic basis of craniofacial construction and the development of craniofacial diseases and disorders; a systems biology approach to cytomegalo-virus infections in salivary glands; the microbial strain genetics, structure, and function of biofilms associated with chronic infections (eg, tooth decay, ear infections, pulmonary infections); bioimaging of sleep apnea; a number of translational and clinical studies focusing on dental implants; bioimaging related to growth and development; haptics applied to dental education; saliva as an informative fluid; dis-traction osteogenesis; and much more.

In addition, the USC School of Dentistry also includes two additional academic programs that are each ranked #1 according to US News & World Report—our biokinesiology and physical therapy program, and our occupational science and occupational therapy program. These programs are also research-intensive and are highly recognized for their research productivity in neurological stroke and rehabilitation, post-traumatic brain injury, sports injuries of young women, ergonomics applied to dental professionals, lifestyle changes to accommodate disease and disorders in the aging populations, autism, and much more.

Question 2

ID: What endeavors have been most successful for you in terms of securing funding for this type of research or other types of translational research?

HS: The vast majority of basic, translational, and clinical research conducted by faculty within the School of Dentistry is federally funded from agencies such as the NIH and the Department of Defense. These federal funds are support for research in the form of investigator-initiated grant support, training grants, and contracts. In addition, our faculty are also involved with a major NIH-supported Translational and Clinical Research Program that includes USC, Childrens Hospital–Los Angeles, Kaiser-Permanente Hospital–Los Angeles, and the City of Hope in Duarte, California. We find that emphasizing faculty research development is a critical issue along with providing a variety of core research services that many faculty can readily access.

Question 3

ID: The demographics of dental schools overall—in terms of faculty composition and the student population—are changing. What changes have you seen at your school in particular?

HS: The major changes in demographics reflect the enormous cultural diversity that reflects Southern California—arguably one of the most culturally diverse locations in the world. The second largest concentration of people from Mexico, China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, San Salvador, or Korea is in Southern California. We speak 224 languages and dialects. This is reflected in our university community as well as patient populations. Our student body, faculty, and staff have reached some level in parity between men and women. Like other dental schools, we also have “the aging of the faculty” with the majority of faculty being at least 50 years of age. Of course, we fully appreciate the primary significance of human resources and continue to actively recruit “the next generation” of dental educators and research scientists. Faculty recruitment, faculty development, and programs to sustain faculty motivation and performance are essential to USC.

Question 4

ID: How has your school responded to these changes, and what have the reactions been from students, faculty, and administrators?

HS: The changes in the patterns of diseases and disorders, informatics and the Web, globalization and migrations have all been and remain major influences on our mission and our strategies. These changes, for example, have been translated into many more community-based clinic venues, “service-learning models,” and a curriculum that celebrates diversity and provides experiential learning that extend over the human lifespan—from conception through senescence and hospice care. Hospital, community-based rotations, and mobile clinics all reflect many of these changes. In addition, each of the seven divisions that comprise the School of Dentistry offer regular faculty development programs and I sponsor a Dean’s Lecture Series that enable enlarged views of change and advancements in many areas related to the health professions—the business model for dental education, learner-centered education, advances in nanobiotechnology, opportunities for interdisciplinary research, dental education models in Malaysia, China, and Brazil, etc. These changes also shape the research agenda in many ways.

Question 5

ID: There are many challenges and opportunities in oral healthcare. What do you see as the most urgent need, and how does your school differentiate itself in efforts to respond to those challenges and opportunities?

HS: At USC we use a hybrid model of problem-based learning as an exemplar for learner-centered education, which is a major strategic initiative at our parent University. We are dedicated to engaging in research of significance to the larger society and we do this through multiple venues and multiple mechanisms (eg, Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology; Center for Biofilms; Center for Biomimetic Approaches to Restorative Dentistry; Center for Bioimaging; faculty joint-appointments with the Schools of Education and Medicine, the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and the College of Engineering; student research clubs; seminar and lecture programs; industry partnerships; foundation partnerships; response to Provost Initiatives; etc). We employ service-learning models and engage students in both individual patient care as well as community health programs using multiple community-based locations and formal rotations through hospital clinics, community-based clinics, and mobile clinics throughout Southern California (a region of 24 million people).

At USC we also consider lifelong learning of extreme importance. Our continuing education program presently reaches 4,000 learners per year through almost 80 courses. Recently, we have also given courses in Alaska as well as in China, Costa Rica, Mexico, France, and Taiwan. We have also experimented in giving courses in the language of the foreign participant learners at USC. Because of geography, we are positioned to focus on providing leadership and learning opportunities for the Pacific Rim nations. We are presently working to build a Pacific Rim Center for Continuing Health Professional Education. We hope to realize this objective through partnerships with a select group of industry partners.

About the Author
Harold C Slavkin
Dean
G. Donald and Marian James Montgomery
Professor of Dentistry
University of Southern California School of Dentistry
Los Angeles, California

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